Troppo as policy mecca

QUT researcher Axel Bruns (presumably along with usual colleagues Jason Wilson and Barry Saunders) has just published some new quantitative research about blogs which contains some interesting results. 

He/they undertook a textual analysis of 3 prominent blogs with somewhat divergent approaches (Club Troppo, Larvatus Prodeo and Andrew Landeryou) in a bid to identify consistent themes in a comparative way.   The findings are described here and here, and suggest that:

… a clear distinction between the political wonkery and gossip of OC and the policy analysis of Troppo has emerged, with LP perhaps sitting somewhere in the middle (and just to be clear, neither of these descriptions imply value judgments – a mature political blogosphere probably needs all of this, and more).

I subsequently replied to Jason Wilson’s email about the research:

That’s really interesting. It’s also predictable (but nevertheless a worthwhile focus for research, I think). We quite consciously focus more on policy and longer term issues on Troppo, especially economic ones given that Nicholas, Fred Argy, James Farrell and Paul Frijters are all economists of one sort or another, as well as law because I’m a lawyer and Nicholas also has legal qualifications and some degree of interest in legal issues.

We focus more on policy issues mostly because it reflects our personal interests, but also because previous experience with running a more short-term partisan/”politics as sporting contest” approach … tended to result in long and acrimonious comment threads which generated much more heat than light and drove away many readers and potential contributors who find the more typical “robust” style of blog discourse unpleasant, time-wasting and somewhat demeaning. I’m sure our rather calmer, more analytical overall ethos is a significant factor in contributors like Fred Argy, Tony Harris, Paul Frijters and others being happy to post at Troppo from time to time.

The obverse side of that coin is that lots of readers also find the more sober, analytical style a tad boring, turgid and even “precious”. I suspect that there are more readers in total who prefer the more “boots and all” partisan footie commentary style, but it’s a trade-off we make quite consciously.

That said, I occasionally deliberately throw in slightly inflammatory posts or asides to liven things up a bit. Running a group blog and maintaining a lively, entertaining but civil and informed discourse on policy issues is an art form (or perhaps a craft to be slightly less precious) that I continually work on perfecting and adjusting.


About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.
This entry was posted in Metablogging, Uncategorised. Bookmark the permalink.

113 Responses to Troppo as policy mecca

  1. Iain Hall says:

    Sorry but it all seems rather pointless to me :roll:
    An example of analysing the chip papers in a vague attempt to understand the quality of their content…

  2. Kim says:

    Ken, I’m not sure about the qualitative judgements you make about styles of commenting, but perhaps I’ll leave that aside.

    From my pov, Troppo fulfils a valuable niche, but I think it’s punching below its weight at the moment. I know Fred’s been ill, and Nick Gruen appears to have more demands on his time now that there’s a Labor government federally and he’s become a go to person for economic advice, but there are heaps of days when Troppo has only one post – Missing Link. Missing Link is very valuable, but I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing for more content generated by Troppo bloggers as opposed to aggregation and quick commentary on others’ content.

    As to the policy/politics dichotomy, I’d question it. There aren’t too many posts on policy that don’t have at least an implicit political or even partisan stance, and lots of what Rob Merkel and Brian (and sometimes the rest of us) write at LP engages substantively and in detail with policy as well as politics. I suspect it’s more of a continuum than is captured in this research.

  3. Ken Parish says:

    Thanks for your opinion Kim. I’ll treat it every bit as seriously as it deserves. Another bit of my email to Jason had this to say:

    PPS The exact mix of short term politics “political wonkery and insider gossip” is no doubt also influenced by the academic (and other) interests of the most prolific authors on the group blogs. Thus Mark B is a sociologist, and so is Kim (I think). They are by far the most prolific writers on LP and their interests are clearly skewed to an extent towards analysing issues of political process rather than policy. Other LP contributors like Robert Merkel and Brian Bahnisch are much more policy-oriented but post much less frequently than either Mark or Kim.

  4. Ken Parish says:

    “An example of analysing the chip papers in a vague attempt to understand the quality of their content”

    I’ll mostly leave it Jason and/or Axel to defend or explain their research (if they want). In part I’m trying to be constructive here, whereas last time they published the first part of their research I hoed into them (or Axel at least) for getting down and dirty and partisan with Tim Blair etc and thereby potentially compromising future research. One can’t make that sort of criticism here.

    That said, to an extent my reaction is like yours. I think there is somewhat limited value in quantitative methodology in analysing blog content, and your analogy with chip papers and content sums it up quite nicely. Still, just as mapping linking and “networking” between blogs (the first stage of their research) can yield some useful initial information, so too can quantitative content analysis, as long as it’s later followed up by more qualitative approaches. I made that point to Jason et al previously, and they indicated that they intend doing precisely that in due course. This is just one stage of an ongoing project which I think should be encouraged. Blogging as a phenomenon is worth studying seriously from numerous perspectives.

  5. Kim says:

    Thanks, Ken.

    Btw, I’m not trying to be snarky – I’m not sure if your “seriously as it deserves” was a tad snarky – in saying that I’d like to see more Troppo original content in the mix. I would. I know a lot of energy and time goes into ML, but because Troppo does occupy a valuable niche in the blogosphere, it would be great to have more content generated by Troppo itself.

  6. Jacques Chester says:


    Perhaps a note on LP to advise that we need another contributor or two? Ken has in the past noted that we could use a woman to try and offset the blokiness in Troppo’s current makeup.

  7. Jacques Chester says:

    Ah … not that I can really speak for Ken in this matter. Just going on past utterances.

  8. Ken Parish says:

    I’d rather do our own talent spotting really. That’s tended to work quote well in the past. Moreover, the prevailing ethos at LP is a bit different from Troppo, and past experience suggests there’s a need for some level of common understanding to avoid buildup of interpersonal friction. The left-centre-right labels are very simplistic but experience has tended to suggest that ignoring them completely and trying to run a group blog that is too much of a “broad church” is doomed to fail. LP is quite distinctively (and avowedly) left of centre, whereas Troppo isn’t (although some disagree).

  9. Jacques Chester says:

    Yeah, I got ahead of myself. But if we do a “talent search” then I imagine LP might mention it in dispatches anyhow.

    What would you and Nick be looking for, Ken?

  10. FDB says:

    “LP is quite distinctively (and avowedly) left of centre, whereas Troppo isnt (although some disagree).”

    The only way to know for sure if you’re a radical enough centrist is to make sure the complaints that you aren’t come equally from each side.

  11. Jason Wilson says:

    Hi folks – I’m glad people have gotten something out of this research, and Ken’s feedback and insights were valuable. We didn’t mean to touch off any cross-blog – I hope it’s clear that we think that all the blogs under study make a valuable, and unique contribution to the Australian blogosphere.

  12. Niall says:

    Chip papers are chip papers. Doesn’t matter a whole lot if they’re plain white ‘butchers’ paper, grease-proof or newsprint. It’s what they contain which matter and if hot, so much the better. I think the analogy is very apt.

  13. Vee says:

    The obverse side of that coin is that lots of readers also find the more sober, analytical style a tad boring, turgid and even precious.

    I find this of another particular politically oriented blog but not Troppo.

  14. hc says:

    I wonder if LP seriously believe they have a following outside a small range of Labor fanatics. Apart from posts by Brian and Robert Merkel here is little critical analysis of issues – just support for everything Labor and uncompromising opposition to any other viewpoint.

    Having a devoted cheersquad-cum-echo-chamber – does not indicate much about popularity. It might show something about the extent of the poverty of real thinking among the dronish leftists who need this reinforcement.

    Many of the comments on LP (& on to a less extent on other popular blogs like Catallaxy) are made up of repeat comments by the same small group who reinforce each other’s prejudices by uncritically supporting the essence of much that the posters state.

    The advantage of Troppo is that those with strong social democratic values are reminded of economic constraints. Indeed the tension between market efficiency issues and justice objectives is a recurrent theme. That’s as it should be with social democrats – the inevitable conflicts between efficiency and equity.

    The extremists on the left who don’t believe in markets and those on the right who believe only in them are both relatively uninteresting types. They are divorced from real political debates of substance. They are also divorced from 98% of the Australian population.

    Sociologists and political scientists suffer from the illusion that verbiage constitutes analysis and a way of dealing with inconvenient facts. They could also learn a lot from a basic course in logic and some basic statistics where they learn about how to present a testable hypothesis and to then test it. And, of course, they should learn some economics.

  15. Kim says:

    Well, we can test hc’s hypothesis that LP has only a small following.

    110106 unique visitors in May.

    1563889 page views in May.

    As to his claim that we’re a Labor cheer squad, with little analysis, I offer in evidence:

    I also note that with the exception of hc, no one else on this thread has decided to do metablog snark, so I’ll be civil and refrain from addressing the rest of his comment.

  16. Nabakov says:

    Hmm, I notice Jason’s mapping criteria doesn’t include much popular culture tags. All policy and no play makes Jack a dull Strocchi.

    Aside from the occasional super hot button issues, I think you’ll find most of the longest and most liveliest threads on LP and CT tend to be triggered by what we like or hate that can be easily referenced without playa hater passion – ie: popular culture.

    That’s why I originally started hanging around Troppo Armadillo and then Mark’s Larva Rodeo spinoff. Fun and occasionally volatile discussions about the stuff we can all agree to disagree on. If I want a serious policy debate, I’ll buy Doc Gruen lunch again (Which we should do soon Nick. That China thing in particular has legs).

    More importantly, CT, to some extent, and LP certainly are the only major Aus current affrays group blogs that aren’t completely blokely. I firmly believe you cannot have an entertaining, informative, provocative and witty discussion about any issue without at least one member of the opposite sex involved.

    Fuck policy, let’s flirt. OK, lets fuck with policy, in a flirty kinda way.

    This has been an ongoing problem with Catallaxy. There are some fine minds regularly contributing but it basically, even with Birdy’s banishment, keeps degenerating into Fight Club for Nerds. Yes SL did some yeoman-like work there to raise the overall tenor but she’s only one or two women and has other things on her plate now.

    Having said all that, hats off to Ken and co for Missing Link and Tropposphere, a couple of well thought out attempts to suggest some local gateway to the blogosphere. If only you could hire soem prfessional designers for the mastheads.

    Mind you, not getting a link from Blair’s Terrorgraph sheltered blogshop must really sting. Tossing and turning all night in your sweaty bed right?

    And why the fuck did Jason include Andrew L. in his initial mapping? That’s not a blog, that’s the revenge fantasies of a fat angry man watching his future detour around him.

    “I wonder if LP seriously believe they have a following outside a small range of Labor fanatics.”

    Well you certainly seem to follow it assiduously Harry, to the point where I believe you actually threatened a LPwatch.

    Have you tried a combo of marijuana and vigara Harry? With a single malt chaser. Not only will it mellow you out, you will also start experiencing organisms again. And orgasms too. Filthy-minded snark aside, you’re not a happy chappy nowy are you?

    Maybe this joke will cheer you up.
    Q. How many Zen Buddhists does it take to write a blog?
    A. Two. One to write it. And one not to comment on it.

    Having lit the blue touchpaper, I will now retire for the evening.

  17. Jason Wilson says:

    Nabakov – I think it was by way of offering a contrast between three blogs in the initial, proof of concept type post. There’s data collected on most Australian blogs for the election period. Having said that, he does have a pretty substantial readership, and if we only selected blogs that were universally popular, well there wouldn’t be any data at all.

  18. Nabakov says:

    Good points Jason.

    I can’t say if your work will ever prove conclusive but it’s certainly interesting. Bit like life itself.

  19. Helen says:

    I wonder if LP seriously believe they have a following outside a small range of Labor fanatics. Apart from posts by Brian and Robert Merkel here is little critical analysis of issues – just support for everything Labor and uncompromising opposition to any other viewpoint.

    You’re obviously not reading there much, hc. Lefties like me oppose the Labor right and their influence on public policy as much as they do the Libruls. Equating anti-conservatism with voting for or supporting the Labor party in Australia is common among people with bad spelling who infest MSM forum threads, but frankly I’d hope for better from a political/economic blogger.

  20. Jacques Chester says:

    OK, everyone’s had their go at LP and Harry. Let’s try to keep it on topic please.

    The topic is: Troppo’s place in the blogosphere. With particular reference to how wonderful I am.


    Your Friendly Local Oppressor.

  21. Ken Parish says:

    Of course Jacques is writing tongue in cheek, and people are free to write about Troppo’s (or LP’s or Landeryou’s) place in the blogosphere in a competitive/snarky sense (something Kim actually started on this thread while professing to deprecate it, provoking others to retaliate). However, it seems to me that it would be a lot more interesting to look at it in a somewhat wider context that might assist Jason, Axel and Barry with their research.

    For example, to what extent do you think the automated word/content analysis methodology actually captures valuable information about the 3 blogs in question? As my primary post suggested, it certainly captures Troppo’s quite deliberate emphasis on policy issues rather than the day-to-day political games/”politics-as-footie” commentary. However, I tend to think it may have understated a little the extent to which LP also deals with policy issues. They certainly deal with day to day political stuff more than we do, but they also have quite a lot of policy analysis. Moreover, even when they deal with the day to day stuff, there’s almost always an attempt at an analytical approach (albeit with a marked ideological skew) rather than just mindless “footie barracking”. As for Landeryou, I don’t read him often enough to make a judgment. I mostly only read stuff that might be useable in Missing Link, and Landeryou is so often defamatory (or borderline defamatory) and therefore not safely linkable that I don’t even have his blog tagged in my feed reader.

    In terms of methodology, as I’ve suggested before, I think a more careful, human-conducted content analysis would yield much more interesting and valuable results than an automated key word mapping exercise. Obviously it would take substantially more time initially than just running some computer program over the archives of some blogs, but I think the results would be much more interesting. If it’s possible for the Missing Link team of 4 unpaid volunteers to skim read 300-400 blog posts every single day (as we do), surely it’s possible for 3 academics with a research grant to do likewise at least with a more tightly selected group. They could log the topics covered by each post into a database; the political orientation (say on Political Compass axes); perhaps evaluate the tone (analytical/academic, partisan polemic, satirical etc); note the extent of interlinking and number of comments generated etc. A subsequent stage might involve interviewing bloggers and commenters about authorial intent, reader reactions and so on to individual posts, as well as their broader perceptions and aspirations for their blog and the blogosphere generally. I don’t really think there’s any extremely useful short cut to content analysis that avoids the need for a human to read and evaluate posts

  22. Jason Wilson says:

    Ken – take your points on the qualitative aspects of this stuff. Rest assured, though, that we all do read a lot of blogs, and part of the reason we put these three out there as proof of concept is that the tone of these different blogs is probably reasonably widely know.

    Having siad that, a really excellent thing about Leximancer is that you can go from maps (like the ones featured in Axel’s second post) and look at how particular words are used in their context. It actually captures sentences and paragraphs featuring those words. People who have used other kinds of qualitative research packages like NVivo might be familiar with the process of coding text and then having it collated – Leximancer actually automates this and embeds it in a range of visual presentation.

    Having a working knowledge of the major blogs, their tone, and the kinds of things they talk about is obviously essential. But the biggest methodological problem in this area is the sheer weight of content out there. We’re experimenting with the methodology as much as we are trying to make claims about Australia’s blogosphere. We’ve collected an enormous amount data for most Australian political blogs during the election period – we’re really just scratching the surface of that material with what we’ve put up so far. We have a long way to go, but I think what we’ve turned up so far is very worthwhile.

  23. Jason Soon says:

    And why the fuck did Jason include Andrew L. in his initial mapping? Thats not a blog, thats the revenge fantasies of a fat angry man watching his future detour around him

    Classic, Nabs, and good enough to win you forgiveness for your Fight Club for Nerds crack :-)

    And Harry, the most active and lively thread on Catallaxy recently has been one on whether free will exists – and it wasn’t even split on political lines – we don’t do Rudd hatred/worship all the time

  24. Kim says:

    (something Kim actually started on this thread while professing to deprecate it, provoking others to retaliate)

    I did not, Ken.

    I was saying I’d like to see more blogging at Troppo that isn’t just ML. That’s a genuine expression of my preferences, as I’ll now say for the second time.

    You’re too quick to see snark.

  25. Jacques Chester says:

    Ken is a law professor. Law students are in part training to dissect arguments and look for hints of conflict.

  26. Jacques Chester says:

    Therefore, Socrates is a dog. Or something like that, I only barely passed Discrete Structures.

  27. Ken Parish says:

    You don’t actually need to dig very deep to find “hints” of Kim’s compulsive urge to bitchy snarkery (despite her patently insincere denials). Here are her relevant contributions on the comment thread to her own Cassius Clay-esque “we are the greatest” post over at LP:

    Women hold up half the blogosky

    Yep! And LP has women bloggers, unlike other prominent group political blogs like Club Troppo.

    /runs away

    And then, 5 comments later:

    Well, I guess they used to have Sophie Masson, and Wendy, and jen very occasionally.

    To be honest, I think Troppo is punching a bit below its weight at the moment. I assume Nick Gruen is much busier than he used to be now that hes the go-to guy for Rudd government economic enquiries, and a lot of days the only post up is the Missing Link – which is a pity, as effectively theyre feeding off others content rather than generating their own (not that I quibble for a moment with the concept of ML and the work that goes into it, but it would be good to see more actual original posting at Troppo.)

    Then she rushed over here and reposted the comment just in case we hadn’t seen it, albeit with some of the more blatantly bitchy bits excised. Not snarky? Yeah right!

    I’d probably be less thin-skinned about the charming Kim if it weren’t for the prominent role played by her and other LPers when still here at CT in bullying Wendy James and Sophie Masson into departing the blogosphere in disgust (while privately lobbying for people who disagreed with them to be censored), before they mercifully departed to create LP where they could reinforce each others’ prejudices and massage their own egoes to their hearts’ content. I had never experienced Stalinism in real life until then.

  28. Laura says:

    Ken, you’re really not pointing out anything that isn’t obvious. This thread was more interesting when it was actually about the gatewatching research.

  29. Patrick says:

    Laura, it doesn’t appear obvious to Kim, and it certainly is not obvious to anyone who hasn’t been reading the same blogs for five years. Ken is quite justified, and sensible, in putting his version up just in case anyone besides your old buddies was reading and might be tempted to believe Kim.

    In fact, your comment is only sensible on the assumption that you are participating in a closed conversation between the same people, which is oddly similar to

    Having a devoted cheersquad-cum-echo-chamber

    , really.

  30. Kim says:

    Gee, Ken, “charming”, hey?

    I absolutely deny that I was involved in bullying anyone. If you and Sophie Masson couldn’t accept strongly felt disagreement, that’s your problem not mine. I very rarely refer to those events any more, but you obviously like to hold a grudge.

    Others can decide whether it was you or me who introduced “snark” onto this thread, but it certainly wasn’t my intention to do so. I’m sorry you can’t accept that in good faith.

  31. adrian says:

    Ken, for people who neither know nor care about the history of this matter, I would have thought that your snark is a mighty over reaction to Kim’s original comment.
    Maybe I am excessively niave, but I took it basically as a compliment to CT in the sense that she would like to see more original content since because the existing original content is of such a high standard.

    Also to characterise the original post on LP as an “I’m the greatest’ ego-fest, means that you either didn’t read it, or did so with a decidedly jaundiced eye.

  32. Kim says:

    Thanks, adrian, that is indeed what I’ve been trying to say – without success I suppose since Ken can’t read what I’m saying in plain English without importing overtones of blogwars others have moved on from.

  33. Laura says:

    Patrick @29 – I was wholly & solely speaking of the dynamic on this comment thread, see my reference to gatewatching etc. I don’t know who you mean when you allude to ‘my mates’. And neither do you.

  34. Laura says:

    ‘your old buddies’ = ‘my mates’ and so forth. Did you mean my cats? I haven’t seen another living soul today, besides them.

  35. Jacques Chester says:

    This thread is making my hand itch for the close-hammer.

  36. Jason Soon says:

    come on Chester, don’t let the nationality of your first name control you …

  37. Jacques Chester says:

    What have the Seychelle Islands to do with it? :)

  38. GJ says:

    I don’t wish to be linked to much of the above – it has become extremely unappealing!! However, I would like to make a brief comment re the politics/policy focus of LP and Troppo – I confess to having developed a conscience avoidance of Landeryou.
    Leaving aside the issue range of both blogs and examining what seems to me to be their core thrust:-
    LP’s focus is essentially “social commentary in brief” – usually from a centre/left perspective. There is clearly a place for this – a well-written blog with attitude – but one should not confuse entertaining commentary with public policy analysis.(Robert Merkel posts would an exception to this generalisation.)
    Troppo obviously does take public policy analysis and development more seriously though not always effectively. A consequence of such an approach is a limitation in output – but people who are genuinely interested in policy prefer quality to quantity.

    (As an aside, Kim should not have responded to hc outburst re ‘verbiage constitutes analysis’ – that response, unfortunately, would have left hc saying “I rest my case”)

  39. hc says:


    You thought I was being snarky – I thought I was being accurate. Apart from Brian and Robert I don’t read much on LP that is not apologetics for one side of politics. Moreover, apart from these authors, I don’t find much at LP that deals with the world in an analytical way – with climate change, problems of regulation, immigration policy etc etc. These issues are addressed as mainly a leftwing moan about goodguys and badguys and their political judgements without much analysis. There is often some socio-babble thrown in to give the impression there is something more to the posts than there is.

    The commentators are an cheersquad who do little more than defend the faith. Smart Alec showoffs like Nabakov try to inject humour I think because they tire of the ritual and the platitudes and sense the uselessness of trying to argue. They’d in fact be miles better off watching The Simpsons.

    The writers at LP often don’t even have an internally consistent ideology – they constantly espouse policies that arguably damage ‘working families’.

    Your own silly post supporting the nationalisation of childcare facilities is an instance. No arguments in support (e.g. economies of scale, information issues) just an internal reference to MB who says a ‘whole of government approach’ has much to recommend it and a reference to a commentor who complains about being bounced around on private buses! It does not advance any debate.

    It is inaccurate to claim that LP is ‘influential’ if it is only preaching to the converted. Echo chambers don’t deliver influence – they are only social clubs in, what Bob Dylan would say, ‘drag disguise’.

    I wasn’t trying to snark – I was just saying that the LP contributions often have low value to me. Their attractiveness is that they are so damn irrational – one feel’s compelled to point it out.

    That’s definitely not the impression I have of Troppo although I often disagree with the contributions here. You were originally bucketing Troppo for not saying more. I think LP should say less but put a bit more effort into theory not feelgood leftwing cliche.


    I was of course alluding to the consistent pursuit of libertarian ideology at Catallaxy and I did such it was much less an issue than the tunnel vision of LP. Of course I am a long-term supporter of Catallaxy’s open mindedness.

  40. Vee says:

    Whilst you test the methodologies, remember that dynamic IPs whether they be dial up or broadband will indicate more unique visitors than actually exist. It is a contingency that is important to cover.

  41. Jason Wilson says:

    Vee – I agree, but we’re not measuring traffic – just networks of links and concept-mapping particular blogs. Other might be doing that sort of stuff on Australian political blogs, but it’s not our focus.

  42. Jason Wilson says:

    I want to make it clear that I’m not wanting to buy into any cross-blog stoushes. At all. So here goes…


    It is inaccurate to claim that LP is influential if it is only preaching to the converted. Echo chambers dont deliver influence – they are only social clubs in, what Bob Dylan would say, drag disguise.

    This leads us into interesting questions. The question of “influence” is vexed. What does influence mean, anyway? The influence we’ve suggested pertains in this instance is simply based on inlinks and LP’s position in certain kinds of conversation. It’s based, in other words, on quantitative measures, and it’s influence as defined by debates in the blogosphere.

    We’d happily concede (or at least I certainly would) that this doesn’t necessarily say anything about who the audience is. The Fin is more influential in terms of politics than New Idea, aven though less people read it – who the readers are is important. If actual policymakers read blog A, but blog B gets a bigger audience, which is the more influential? Hard to tell without talking to lots of people.

    It’s also hard to measure whether or not people’s minds are being changed on particular issues – whether blogs are influencing people in the sense of “opinion leadership” – without doing other kinds of research. I am aware of people who are doing more ethnographic modes of research on these kinds of questions.

    But, we can tell who is being linked to, and maybe (the topic this thread started on) we can tell the sorts of things particular blogs are likely to feature over time. It’s a start, and we’re hoping that developing methodologies using these new tools will tell us some important things.

  43. Ken Parish says:


    I guess I should make it clear that, although I got snarky with Kim (and don’t have much of an opinion of her, which may well be reciprocated – I’ll try to simply ignore her in future to avoid unedifying squabbbles) I don’t share Harry Clarke’s more general low opinion of LP. Clearly it has a much stronger identifiable “left” ideological focus than Troppo, but there’s nothing wrong with that as long as other viewpoints are at least acknowledged and sometimes analysed. I think most of the LP authors (even Kim) mostly make pretty reasonable efforts at good faith analysis within the framework of their ideological beliefs, and no-one can really do more than that (including Harry or myself).

    I would certainly agree that LP comment threads can often exhibit a fairly tunnel visioned and inflexible outlook by quite a lot of their participants, but you can’t really blame the LP crew themselves for that. In fact in some senses (especially generating a large loyal following) it’s probably a positive factor. LP’s audience size (as discussed by Kim however immodestly) is of an impressive size, certainly larger than Troppo’s though (I suspect) nowhere near as large as Bolt or Blair. My own view/suspicion is that a significant part of the reason for that (as with Bolt and Blair) is that humans are tribal/communal creatures, and LP does a very good job of building a community/tribe of generally like-minded people. Of course that has its dangers as well, but there isn’t much point in condemning a group blog for exhibiting features that are common to the vast majority of human societies. I would suggest to Harry that (say) Catallaxy and Blair’s blogs both exhibit just as much “tribal” behaviour. OTO I think Troppo is mostly an exception to that (our frequent commenters are widely spread around the ideological spectrum and usually manage to co-exist quite amicably) , although I’m probably fooling myself to some extent.

  44. Kim says:

    You were originally bucketing Troppo for not saying more

    No, I wasn’t hc, as I’ve said repeatedly. I was saying that I enjoyed reading a lot of Troppo posts and I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to go without – because there have been quite a lot of days when it’s just been Missing Link.

    As to your comments on LP’s content – each to their own is all I’ll say. But it is wrong to suggest – as Ken has done as well – that LP is an “echo chamber” in terms of comments threads. You can see that’s not the case if you look at some of the discussion on the Henson photos for instance:

    I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a group blog with posters coming from a particular perspective. It’s upfront, so what’s the problem? It’s not as though we all agree on everything (you could also consult some Greens/ALP stoushes on LP), or for that matter that we’re all praising Rudd as much as you seem to think.

    By the way, I agree with Brian that the distinction between “policy” and “process” that Ken makes is a problematic one:

    One of the areas where the Rudd government is open to legitimate criticism is the claim that Rudd acts on “evidence based policy” – alcopops might be a case in point, as might the NT Intervention. You can’t firewall “good policy” off from political choices, and how those choices are made.

    I don’t know how economists view policy questions and process, and I’m aware from your previous comment that you seem to have a poor opinion of political science, but all the literature from political science and public administration going back to when the distinction between “administration” and “politics” started to be called into question post-war by American scholars suggest that it’s an impossible one to maintain.

    Economics also, I’d argue, functions in part as an ideological view of the world – and that’s whether we’re talking about neoclassical concepts of rational action or behaviourist understandings of action. That was pretty clear in the days of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and I think it would improve rather than diminish debate about policy if political orientations colouring scholarship and policy research were upfront now.

  45. C.L. says:

    “Troppo as policy mecca.”

    Personally, I drop by for Ken’s Juan Cole links.

    Top shelf independent analyst.

    Interesting take on the utterances of Ahmadinejad, for example.

  46. Antigone says:

    Frankly, as a mainly blog reader-lurker I’ve been amazed that “Kim” from LP has for so long been able to get away with exactly the sort of I abuse/provoke you and then when you reasonably or even angrily respond I either plead innocent or up the ante and seriously abuse or misepresent you heaps more game which has been so, involuntarily, by her, exposed on this thread – and to which Laura discreetly, and elegantly, as ever, alludes.

    I could list a sizeable number of people, male and certainly female commenters “Kim” has dropped on in this way over the last year or two on LP and other blogs. I wasn’t around to read her efforts on CT or elsewhere prior to that, but Ken Parish, I take your solemn historical word.

    I don’t give a fig for Kim, who ever he/she is, views about anything, or more importantly her method of argumentation, which is one of the main reasons I find it difficult to log on to LP, even though occasionally I am interested in what new might be said there about current affairs. But I AM curious as to the silence of the LP gang or other commenters in the face of her repeated behaviour.

    Is this the Belinda Neal syndrome, writ small?

  47. C.L. says:

    “…Cassius Clay-esque we are the greatest post over at LP…”

    But I’ll pay that – LOL.

  48. Ken Parish says:

    “Personally, I drop by for Kens Juan Cole links.”

    But we also link Michael Totten when he has interesting stuff to say, and his material deals with the Middle East from a much more conservative/right wing perspective. We try to cover a wide range of opinion and analysis on Missing Link, whether we as individual editors agree with the opiniosn expressed or not (obviously much of the time we don’t). If CL (or other readers) want to suggest other interesting international bloggers you would like us to add to the monitoring list feel free to propose them.

  49. melaleuca says:

    Club Troppo has plenty of stimulating posts that lead me to think about and research the topics covered. I’d rate it number one by a country mile.

    Since I’m not feelin’ the least bit bitchy today I’ll also say Catallaxy and Larva Prod are well worth the subscription fee.

  50. JC says:

    If CL (or other readers) want to suggest other interesting international bloggers you would like us to add to the monitoring list feel free to propose them.

    Heres some blogs you may want to add.

    Ideas Milton Friedmans son who is also an academic. Leans libertarian. He puts up some great posts at times. Safe for any lefty to visit.

    Depleted Cranium. At the moment hes got a piece about how cities had a real problems with horse shit before cars. . We never think of that. The bloody smell in the cities in those days must have horrible. Mentions something that would send any progressive into 100% explosive anger was how they only seemed to have kept the area around the stock exchanges clean of horse crap (that was interesting).

    Blog Maverick.Mark Cubans blog. The only multi billionaire I know of with a blog Some interesting pieces at times about technology for the dude in the street. Lefties will like him because hes having a huge shouting match with Bill O Reilly because Cubans TV company HDTV- is supporting some lefty show He hates OReilly with a passion

    NY Hotties
    . Its a blog written by a highly priced NYC hooker who talks about her Johns etc. Dormant for the moment but always hoping shell get back to writing. Said she went to Yale or whatever and isnt a bad writer. Ads on the side are pretty decent.

    View From the Right
    . Could only be from NYC. This is a guy of Jewish descent that converted to the Anglican church(called Episcopalian in the US due to the war of independence). Hates Bush, with a passion, very right wing but quirky seeing he was supporting Hillary in the election. Doesnt believe in evolution. Hes very good writer though but Best avoid if you think criticism Islam is offensive.

    Dynamist blog
    : the acceptable face of Libertarianism. Safe for any lefty to visit seeing Virginia Prostel writes a column (or did) for the NY Times. Jason Soons met her so he can vouch its a safe site.

    How about not just blogs.

    Great Articles in

    New Yorker

    Best magazine ever. Very safe leans (Tory) left.

  51. JC says:

    Last one

    Science based medicine:

    Excellent site for hypochondriacs. Group blog by doctors who hang well deserved shit on unsciency junk medicine like naturopathy, needles stuck in bodies and interesting stuff like that.

  52. Ken Parish says:

    Thanks Joe. I’ll take a look. I assume I’ll find them easily with a Google search on the titles given that you didn’t provide URLs (the comment interface allows it, you know). I was hoping CL might also post a wish list; after all the tastes of Santamaria Groupers are rather different from right libertarian forex/share market punters, and I’m happy to accommodate them too.

  53. Ken, since you stated in your email to Jason that you dislike “acrimonious” comments threads, can I ask what possible purpose publishing a comment such as the one at 46 serves? It’s just personal abuse – bizarrely masked by a supposed concern with bullying.

    I recall the last time some of the research that Jason and the QUT crew did was discussed on Troppo the thread similarly descended into meta-commentary about the quality of particular blogs and the ethics and practices of bloggers. I think I said at the time that was most unfortunate, and perhaps researchers could better direct their endeavours towards analysing why so few blogs have any relationship to some sort of putative public sphere that some bloggers claim to be fostering.

    I think everyone here knows that inter-blog stoushes are very rarely edifying. We’re capable of doing a lot better than this.

  54. I’d also note, in this context, that the “About Troppo” section here notes that threads “can often be derailed by ad hominem abuse”.

    Tu quoque?

  55. Ken Parish says:


    Your professed concern would be more convincing if you weren’t strategically ignoring the fact that your colleague Kim started the whole thing with some disingenuous unprovoked snark that she inaugurated at LP and then recycled here in a successful baiting attempt. I’m not proud of being suckered by her standard mean-spirited snark (and you’ll note from the comment thread that there are others who also see through her well practised nastiness), but I’m also not going to cop your sanctimonious nonsense. One nice thing about blogging is that we don’t actually have to tolerate people we find personally unpleasant.

  56. Snark is in the eye of the beholder, apparently, Ken.

    I didn’t read those comments as being snarky. I can’t see how saying you’d like more of a good thing could be interpreted that way.

    The one about Sophie Masson at LP, which appears from what you’ve said here to be the comment that pushed your buttons was a response to SL, as I recall, which in turn was a response to another commenter who wanted to see more women represented in the ranks of the “political” blogosphere. It thus should be read in that context, but what you appear to be doing is suggesting that anything Kim says has to be filtered through your own interpretation of what went on here years ago regarding l’affaire Masson. As a commenter has said here, it’s ancient history, and would be news to a lot of people reading this thread, but it’s also unfair of you to level accusations about others without linking back to the threads concerned so people could make their own minds up.

    I was also involved in that whole thing, and I don’t accept your ascriptions of blame as being fair or your interpretation of what occurred. It struck me at the time – and I think it’s happening again here – that you were wearing two hats – one as moderator calling for civility and the other as boots and all participant. That’s not a sustainable juggling act, as you’d have to recognise, I think, if you reflected on it. I’d also point out that disputes which take an emotional toll on their participants are rarely clear cut and rarely is either or any party without blame. I myself have regrets, and I’m not the only one who’s acknowledged that and apologised if I’ve hurt any feelings. You seem to want to continue to interpret anything coming from people who were on the opposite side of a dispute to you as possibly in bad faith, despite that, and despite the fact that all this occurred about 3 and a half years ago. I’m not sure whether “forgive and forget” is in your vocabulary, on the strength of what you’ve been saying on this thread.

    Here, too, you appear to be saying that a comment I make can’t be taken seriously because you’ve chosen to characterise me as being “sanctimonious”. It’s fairly clear that whatever you’re doing here is very far from practicing civility or indeed avoiding acrimony, your other professed aim. You’re more or less openly admitting that your dislike of ad hominem comments only comes into play when you don’t hold a commenter (Kim or me, in this instance) in high regard, and if that’s the case, you’ll impute motives to commenters rather than take them at face value. The “Belinda Neal” comparison at 46 was entirely gratuitous, but you won’t accept my saying that and hold to your own stated comments policy because you have a problem with me.

  57. Sorry, for “high regard”, read “low regard”.

  58. Ken Parish says:

    “I myself have regrets, and Im not the only one whos acknowledged that and apologised if Ive hurt any feelings.”

    Err, you haven’t apologised until now. Is that what you’re doing?

  59. Ken, my recollection is that both Kim and I at some time in the past expressed regret about some of the controversy that occurred here and apologised if anyone’s feelings had been hurt. I’ve tried to search the LP comments threads, but it’s taking me too long because the search facility isn’t ideal. It’s possible, but unlikely I think, that my memory in this instance is faulty, but the fact that I do recall this suggests the sentiment is certainly there now! If by chance I’m wrong, I’m happy to restate the apology.

  60. C.L. says:

    I don’t think there ARE any Santa bloggers, Ken.

    As for this Most Influential baloney. Look, on the right the big battalion was always Blair’s outfit. Now it’s a Blair/Bolt duumivirate. Then there are the medium-range blogs and the inconsequential hobby blogs like mine. That’s the hierarchy in a nutshell.

    Remember when the question re broadsheet/RN opinion hogging was “where’s the right-wing Phillip Adams”? In the blogosphere, the question was “where’s the left wing Andrew Bolt?” LP seems to have assumed an MSM-like peak body status – in the absence of a left-wing breakthrough Bolt figure. Dunlop hasn’t become that – presumably because even lefties don’t want to read about his BushHitler hatred 7 days a week. There was a place for it in the blog-ecology and so LP crawled out of the slime. I won’t say it was evolution exactly because unlike the exotic creatures of primodial yore, it waded back into the slime not long afterwards.

    Troppo has a more genuinely intellectual status and one not quite so ridiculously partisan as LP, which gives the impression that it’s fuelled by talking points emailed to the team daily by ALP headquarters – if not Kevin Rudd’s personal laptop. (Although Ken is essentially a centrist lefty – which is to say, he’s a lefty but one with a bullish tendency to bolt from the reservation whenever the mood strikes him).

    Ken, respectfully, my only criticism of CT is that it’s badly in need of a re-design.

  61. C.L., from what I understand KRudd texts his talking points at an hour far too early for me to process them.

    I’d also reiterate the point made earlier that if you can’t find stuff I’ve written critical (in some cases, highly critical) of Kevin Rudd and his government, you’re not actually reading. If there’s justice in the criticism, we’re probably too partisan in dissing Nelson as much as we do. But then we’re in good company with a large segement of his own party, I suspect.

  62. Ken Parish says:


    It still doesn’t feel much like an apology, and it’s not the sort of thing I’d forget (given that I’ve always thought it was required in all the circumstances). Nevertheless I’m happy to accept it as such and assume it’s just something at which you’re a bit clumsy, just as my acceptance no doubt doesn’t strike you as all that gracious although it’s sincere.

  63. As I said, Ken, I think I made it (and Kim did too) on some threads at LP a long time ago when all this was much fresher. I also think you need to accept that you and I probably have very different interpretations of what occurred, and I don’t think it would be productive to try to smoothe that over, although if you’re ever in the mood to discuss it with me privately, I think some good might come from that. Perhaps I don’t sound overly gracious either, because I don’t want to be interpreted as agreeing to your interpretation – particularly on the “bullying” claim – but I am certainly also sincere. I think it’s a great pity that it got out of hand, and it was a great pity that so many people felt hurt, and I very much regret my contribution to both those things, for which I apologise.

    By the way, I don’t much like personal conflict – something that was not necessarily to my advantage when I was involved in student and ALP politics!

  64. C.L. says:

    It’s more a taste question for me rather than a criticism, Mark. I visit LP only infrequently so I can’t speak authoritatively about the angles being taken there. As far as I’m concerned you’re free to be as partisan as you like.

    Do bear in mind, though, that one of your better criticisms of Chris Shiel was that he didn’t so much analyse events so much as he polemically willed things to be so that manifestly were not so. Like a broken clock, Christopher was right at Kevin O’clock but that’s no repudiation of your original argument.

    But there’s just a slight hint that you’re now doing what he used to do. Maybe this is an incumbency pathology and one of the glorious, unseen amoebic ways that our democracy renews itself through cycles of triumph, hubris, hanging on and getting beaten. A while ago I read something of yours on Queensland and it just seemed to me to be 100 percent spin – with not the slightest morsel of substance. It was like one of the gruels dished up to Ivan Denisovich in that respect. Now few people are more indifferent than me about Banana Bender politics. But even I know that a joint party with a generally well-liked Borg at the helm is something Labor will seriously need to worry about in the next few years. People throughout the State have been crying out for it. But you dismiss it all with glib talk of a Pineapple Party. That’s funny and amusing and I wish I’d thought of it. But it isn’t reality.

  65. I think we owe it to Ron Boswell, actually, C.L.

    You may have a point on the Borg’s baby, but we’ll see. Don’t forget I won $1500 on getting the exact number of seats Beattie won time right while all the journos and pundits – if they backed their own predictions – lost heavily. ;)

    You might also like to check out what I’ve said about some of the focus group polling on the Borg. But you’re right that Qld politics isn’t exactly compelling stuff these days, so maybe I’ve been writing about it in shorthand as it were.

    But the bigger point you make is probably a fair one. It’s no doubt always a temptation to slip into tribalist politics or wishful thinking of the sort you describe, and it’s a salutary warning for me and one I’ll try to heed.

    I don’t apologise for being a partisan though! But, as has been said, we’re upfront about that. And you can be a partisan and still make an argument that goes beyond partisanship, I’d like to think.

  66. Jacques Chester says:

    All this manly apologising is making me feel misty about the gills. I guess we can all get along.

  67. Sorry, a bit weary tonight – that last para wasn’t in response to you, C.L., but to previous criticisms. And in 61 “segement” should read “segment” obviously.

    Midnight is malopropism hour!

  68. Jacques Chester says:

    And I’ll say this for CL, he has a way with words.

  69. Jacques, wasn’t it LBJ who said “if we don’t love each other, we die”? Although maybe he’s not the best person to be conjuring in this particular context! ;)

  70. Ken Parish says:

    It was certainly LBJ who said: “If you’ve got ’em by the balls, their heart and mind will follow.”

  71. TimT says:

    Auden said it, in ‘September 1, 1939’.

    There is no such thing as the State
    And no one exists alone;
    Hunger allows no choice
    To the citizen or the police;
    We must love one another or die.

  72. Tillman says:

    Just by way of clarification, Nabokov is not the originator of the “fight club for nerds” crack about Catallaxy.

    Several weeks ago I posted at the Cat that Mrs Tillman had said that she thought it was like “fight club for dorks”. Perhaps Nabokov came up with that thought independently, but she said it first and deserves the credit.

    Thanks for providing me the opportunity to clear that up.

  73. gilmae says:

    Maybe this is an incumbency pathology and one of the glorious, unseen amoebic ways that our democracy renews itself through cycles of triumph, hubris, hanging on and getting beaten.

    There has to be some way we can get those words chiseled into a chunk of marble for later generations to read, revel in and be inspired by.

  74. Ken Parish says:

    Getting back to the original topic of the thread (Bruns et al’s research) …

    I would like to see this research move towards investigating aspects of one of my favourite hobbyhorses. Are blogs a suitable vehicle for generating what Habermas calls “communicative rationality” and achievement of greater genuine consensus through debate, or is the best we can ever expect some version of Chantal Mouffe’s notion of “agonistic (as opposed to antagonistic) pluralism”? This comment thread may well be quite a good example of the latter.

    Exploring these sorts of questions would certainly require detailed analysis of both primary posts and comment threads, which might make it prohibitively time-consuming. It might also require attempting to measure shifts in stance/opinion by discussion community particpants over time rather than just during a single debate/thread. Most of us stubbornly defend a position during any given debate for reasons of ego and competitiveness, and any conviction that we might have been at least partly wrong is acknowledged and assimilated only slowly (if at all). Again, tracking such phenomena may be prohibitively time-consuming. However, blogs are a new and unique phenomenon which record and preserve the thinking and argumentative techniques and substantive positions of many groups of intelligent, articulate, educated and engaged people over time, and therefore potentially make them available for systematic study. It’s an opportunity that should be grasped with both hands IMO. In fact I reckon this sort of focus could turn what currently looks like a project with only minor curiosity value into something of very wide significance to political science, sociology etc.

  75. Patrick says:

    Ken, I’ve always wondered when you contrast those two whether there is anything in communicative rationality that really excludes agonistic pluralism.

    I believe that Habermas basically starts from the principle that consensus is both possible and desirable. So did I, at University. But I don’t see why the theory behind communicative rationality (can’t there be a better name than that?) doesn’t work just as well, stripped of any fundamental faith in consensus?

    Isn’t it both perfectly legitimate, and realistic, to aim for no more than understanding the rational basis on which we differ? For example, what of the umpteen million questions to which we just don’t know, for certain, the answer? I doubt that you are going to find much of a consensus based on not acting in the absence of sufficient information!

    The point about agonistic pluralism, AFAIK (which may not be far) is that those gaps in our set of rationally observable true facts are going to be filled by our beliefs. Our brain appears to have evolved in part for just that – filling in gaps by subjective extrapolation.

    So can you explain why that isn’t a fatal objection to communicative rationality, or where I have misunderstood?

    PS If your immediate response is ‘my God, I have a life’, that’s quite understandable!

  76. melaleuca says:

    Well in all seriousness I extend my congrats on a job well done to Jason Soon at Catallaxy and the team at Larva Prod. I’ve learnt plenty from these blogs. Soony, Kim, Mark and Brian B, tigtog and Robert Merkel in particular all deserve gold medals for services to the Oz blogosphere.

  77. Liam says:

    I can’t believe I missed a decent inter-blog spat. Serves me right for lack of procrastination.

    Dont forget I won $1500 on getting the exact number of seats Beattie won time right while all the journos and pundits – if they backed their own predictions – lost heavily.

    Is that a Strocchist argumentum ad blackjack Mark?

    There has to be some way we can get those words chiseled into a chunk of marble for later generations to read, revel in and be inspired by.

    Gilmae, how about a default check box on the comments fields of blogs: Name (required), Mail (will not be published) (Required), Website, Acceptance “All Glory Is Fleeting” Policy (required).

    Most of us stubbornly defend a position during any given debate for reasons of ego and competitiveness

    And pleasure, Ken. And pleasure.

  78. gilmae says:

    That seems fine, Liam, but I was thinking we should also try to reach people whose opinions actually matter

  79. cant there be a better name than that?

    “Universal pragmatics” and “discourse ethics” are two other concepts employed by Habermas.

    Discourse ethics might be more relevant here, as communicative rationality is closely linked by Habermas to “communicative action” – what he’s theorising really has more to do with the predicates of collective action rather than assessing the truth of “validity claims”. It’s really more of a heuristic for evaluating the potential or realised validity of particular social and political structures, than a guide to debate or discourse. Both “communicative rationality” and “agonistic pluralism” are attempting to cover (and prescribe) the domain of political decision making rather than intellectual debate as such, and I don’t think they’re necessarily opposed as Patrick says. Habermas also sees rationality as context-bound and historically inflected – which is why what he’s talking about is an idealised construct. It’s a sort of regulatory ideal in Kant’s sense – a standard for judgement rather than an outcome. So concensus is open to critique from Habermas’ point of view rather than being a good in itself.

    Oh, and thanks, mel.

  80. Is that a Strocchist argumentum ad blackjack Mark?

    Irony, comrade Liam, it’s all about the irony!

  81. “Regulatory idea” that should be.

    Apologies for the jargon – as anyone who’s ever opened a volume of Habermas knows, it’s impossible to avoid when trying to work out what he’s on about. Which is one of the ironies of “ideal communication”. ;)

  82. Jason Wilson says:

    Ken – Just to clarify again – this is not representative of the totality of what this project hopes to bring out. We’re at the early stages of developing a methodology that actually gives some empirical substance to or basis for discussions of the kind your proposing. There’s all kinds of research out there that proposes to address the questions you’re talking about, but gets nowhere because it can’t or won’t deal with the actual content of blogs. Lots of academic conference papers I’ve heard make these kinds of proposals about the “potential” of blogging, but don’t get any further.

    In fairness, we don’t seem to be getting much credit for the innovative aspects of this research. For example, scraping and archiving a slice of the Australian blogosphere, showing links between blogs in posts and comments as well as blogrolls, and zeroing in on the kinds of topics that particular blogs tend to cover. The big problem in researching blogs is one you rightly point to:

    “Exploring these sorts of questions would certainly require detailed analysis of both primary posts and comment threads, which might make it prohibitively time-consuming.”

    The point is that the methods we’re developing allow us to automate this to some extent and then visualise or present the information gleaned in a range of ways. This potentially makes this process less time consuming, for one, but also, we hope, might advance the discussion beyond what blogs “might” be doing. If what I;ve seen at a range of conferences is any guide, we’re well ahead of the curve on a lot of this.

  83. The classic example of bad concensus for Habermas is, of course, Nazism – because it’s grounded in irrationality. What he’s trying to do is avoid the relativism he sees as being inherent in postmodernism, but what he’s not trying to do with “communicative rationality” is efface disagreement. I think he’s misread as a sort of German Rawls.

  84. Ken Parish says:


    I Think we’re talking at cross-purposes. I entirely agree that any wider research of the sort I discussed above needs to be grounded in hard data rather than just supposition, and that your research is seemingly developing some of the tools that will allow those hard data to be collected. I’m saying “it’s only a first step albeit an essential one” and you’re saying “Of course it is, but you’re criticising us as if that’s all we intend doing”. But I’m not criticising you at all, I think what you’re doing has real promise. I’m just getting my own dibs in early as to some of the directions I’d like to see your research developing towards.

  85. Jason Wilson says:

    Okay Ken – understood and point taken – no worries – I’m always assuming the worst about bloggers and our research after the “Boyzone of Blogging” episode ;)

  86. Jason Wilson says:

    Oh and PS – I agree that none of this is the last word, and there are a range of ways to approach blogging research – we’re just hoping we might be able to develop something useful. It goes without saying that we always welcome feedback from bloggers (positive and negative) notwithstanding moments of sensitive-flowerdom ;)

  87. Ken Parish says:


    I agree that your point about the link between communicative rationality and communicative action in Habermas is important and worth exploring. As you say, it’s “really more of a heuristic for evaluating the potential or realised validity of particular social and political structures, than a guide to debate or discourse.” That is, Habermas is more concerned about theorising idealised blueprints for informing political action rather than the sort of (somewhat) idle and endless chatter of the political blogosphere.

    Nevertheless, it may be that blog discussion over time will come to infuse the active political process more extensively, as seems to be occurring in the US. Moreover, it might be (for example) that blog-based discussion could provide a useful platform for part of the “deliberative polling” dialogue that James Fishkin and others promote as a means of creating a more participatory democracy that’s much less productive of keejerk conservative stasis than the “citizen-initiated referenda” employed in places like Switzerland. I first became interested in all this when I participated as a delegate in the Deliberative Poll held at Parliament House prior to the republic referendum in 1999. It seemed to me then (and still does) that a significant part of the apparent shifts in popular opinion achieved by deliberative polling processes are a result of immediate social factors akin to crowd hysteria and similar effects. Thus they’re acutely susceptible to manipulation, and the shifts they achieve may well not be enduring ones anyway once the excitement of the mass deliberative occasion fades.

    Informing and discussing issues with deliberative polling participants via blog platforms may provide a means to create an informed electorate in a dispersed and affordable way without distorting opinion through social mass hysteria-like factors. OTO if Bruns et al’s research shows that in the absence of crowd/social factors few people are ever susceptible to modfying their initial views irrespective of the amount of information and dialogue to which they’re exposed, then there probably wouldn’t be much point in developing it as a mode for more participatory democracy.

    There’s a post in there somewhere when I get time.


    My strong suspicion is that “agonistic pluralism” is all that is usually achievable, and any real shift towards consensus is quite rare, in considerable part for the reasons you suggest. OTO if cognitive scientists like Haidt are right that we make decisions with moral content (which includes many decisions about political matters) through a “social intuitive” process, with social interactions mediating the intuitive products of “hard-wired” moral modules whose structure and relative priority have already been shaped by nurture, then changing the social environment in a careful and constructive way might be expected to bring about real if modest changes of attitude. Perhaps even more so if we can learn to interrogate our moral intuitions and test them against a rationalist/utilitarian framework.

  88. That’s interesting, Ken.

    Just on Habermas, I think a lot of the discussion of him has historically taken the turn it has because his first book on the public sphere wasn’t translated until some decades after those which first articulated his communicative theory of action. So a misinterpretation became entrenched which sort of saw him as having argued that once upon a time, all was reason and light in tea houses and coffee shops and the republic of letters. In fact, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere makes it clear that he doesn’t think that – just that what occurred then was a significant dimension of modernity. He’s in fact immunised against the criticisms often made of his work – that such discussion was exclusivist, narrowly framed, self-interested to a degree, etc. because all that’s recognised in the first book. In later work, he moved further away from historical description and towards intervening in key problems in philosophy and social theory, which means that it necessarily became more abstract. There’s a sort of shorter Habermas around which in fact doesn’t reflect the real Habermas much at all because it doesn’t take into account the Weberian and Kantian trajectories of ideality, ideation, etc.

    I think a lot of the literature on public reason and deliberation would be a much more productive vein to mine for the sort of research you’re suggesting.

  89. Laura says:

    Jason said: “In fairness, we dont seem to be getting much credit for the innovative aspects of this research. For example, scraping and archiving a slice of the Australian blogosphere, showing links between blogs in posts and comments as well as blogrolls, and zeroing in on the kinds of topics that particular blogs tend to cover.”

    Yes, you’re absolutely right – I was noting this and feeling a bit bad about it before you pointed it out just now, actually. If I could manage to get over being not very interested in citizen journalism takes on blogging I would try to give you some more thoughtful feedback. As it is I have only got these thoughts Jason:

    – you’re showing your preliminary/in process results to what’s quite possibly the worst possible audience for it, ie blog tragics who already do the crawl and scrape themselves, manually, every day when we log into bloglines or whatever. The first response of lots of these people is going to be: ‘*shrug* well, der Freddy. Now tell me something I didn’t know.’ I think perhaps you’ll get a less weird reception when you move on to more analytical work, and/or present your findings to people who aren’t immersed / permeated in the blogosphere already.

    – On top of this you’re publicly reporting on your work while you’re in the midst of doing it and I can’t imagine how tricky that must be. I would not want to try it.

    – I’m glad you’re not actually concentrating in this research on non electoral politics blogging, because I’m still liking blogging enough that I would rather just read it than be prodded to think about it analytically.

    – I’m curious about whether you envisage doing work on influence and blogging that draws on theories of influence from literary studies – TS Eliot or Bloom for instance.

  90. Jason Wilson says:

    Hi Laura – thanks for the comments.

    Everything you say about the difficulties of this is spot-on. Related to your first point about the audience is of course the potential to put noses out of joint, a potential we’ve thoroughly demonstrated. This is a problem because goodwill is quite important to projects like this.

    I think that in principle you can publish and get feedback as you go along. According to my own conception of the academic profession, I think it’s important to get this stuff out in public as it comes up, and use it to provoke discussion. I guess we’re hoping any methodologies will be applicable beyond just electoral politics type blogs, but whether they’re as immediately applicable is an open question.

    The literary influence stuff is interesting, and an approach I hadn’t thought of. Relatedly, I have wanted to talk for awhile about issues of literary style and genre in blogging. Idiosyncratic essayist-type blogs like Andrew Elder’s are really interesting to me, and seem innovative in ways that talk of influence is just not going to be able to pick up. I am not sure whether we’ll get to it soon, but now you mention it it’s something I’d like to look into some time, Laura – I think literary scholarship has resources that I for one would like to draw on.

  91. NPOV says:

    I have to say the idea that a blog is mostly “preaching to the converted” and is therefore non-influential is pretty silly. For a start, there’s little point trying to “preach” to somebody who is either completely uninterested or doggedly and ideologically antagonistic to the general thrust of a blog, and more importantly, it assumes that a blog’s message is so narrow that its readers couldn’t possibly hold different opinions on various matters, even if they generally inhabit the same side of the political fence. I don’t read L.P. all that much, but every time I do I’ve seen no shortage of disagreement between posters who all generally appeared to be left-leaning. I’d even argue you get far more interesting discussion about, for instance, ALP policy among lefties than among righties, as whereas righties would generally be nearly uniformly opposed to it, among lefties there’s a wider range of views, and the arguments are generally less ideological.

    Perhaps harry thinks a blog can only be influential if it’s able to convince lefties of the error of their ways and come over to the dark side?

  92. Patrick says:

    Perhaps harry thinks a blog can only be influential if its able to convince lefties of the error of their ways and come over to the dark side?

    I’m pretty sure he thinks that they are the dark side.

    But surely there is a fair point there too. Consider the lack of any real impact of moveon or dailykos in actually getting people elected. If anything, they have probably cost the Democratic party by re-inforcing the far-left echo chamber!

  93. John Greenfield says:

    LP is obviously a destination leftist blog, whose owners work – and have worked – bloody hard to get it where it currently is. They should take pride in its huge readership. But it could be even better if the gene pool was broadened considerably. Oh, and also diligent excising of adjectives in articles posted. ;)

    The problem with LP is that Howard has gone. It’s tone and perspective are far too reliant on the experiences of its main article-writers whose coming of political age coincided with Howard’s reign. After 12 years of unremitting anger, bile, snark, sarcasm, and pathological fixation on The Oz opinion pages the poor dears are now at a bit of a loss. Where this is most obvious is in the “quality” of the “analysis.”

    They cannot look at the world in any way apart from Howard Boo, Not-Howard Hurrah! A hell of a lot of other economic/sociological/psychic/cultural events and trends emerged over this period, which they missed. LP largely – though as others above have noted, by no means not exclusively – reads like a series of extended Letters to the Editor to The Oz.

    A prime example of this is Mark’s recent surprise that his undergrads were not very informed about Paul Keating. I must say I have always shaken my head at Mark’s deifying of Keating. It just shows a tin ear to the shifts in Australia over the 1990s. Another time he was excited that a Rudd government would ‘be a return to real Labor values, such as under Keating.’ Some Luvvies say the darndest things.

    Unfortunately Mark and Kim will go to their graves still fighting the same Culture Wars they fought over the past decade.

  94. NPOV says:

    Well anyone hoping a blog is likely to have much affect on getting someone elected is bound to be disappointed.

    It’s hard to see why the Democratic party would be particularly affected by anything that goes on in the pretty tiny “far left” movement that exists in the U.S., or why anyone in that movement would care much about the Democratic party, given it’s never shown any interest in far-left-type concerns (and minimal interest in what would be considered medium-left-type concerns in the rest of the world).

  95. Sorry, John, you need to read more carefully. I wasn’t surprised that undergrads around 20 years old didn’t have much first hand recollection of Keating’s Prime Minister-ship. I’d hardly expect them too, and when you’re teaching, you’re always conscious of the balance between needing to give a lot of background detail on past events before proceeding to analyse them which becomes an issue the further they recede in time. For instance, I used to give a lecture on Princess Diana as a postmodern saint, but I doubt that I would these days because I suspect I’d have to fill in a lot of back story, or I’d do it differently because of a different knowledge base the students have. Same story with a lecture I used to give on Joh. It’s basic for any teacher to attend to what students already know!

    What I was interested in – as a datum, if you like – was what they thought about Keating not having lived through the Keating era as adults.

    NPOV, Daily Kos has funnelled donations to Democratic candidates before, and that’s the context in which the debate takes place. You might also like to consult Hillary Clinton’s statements on how the influence of the “netroots” worked against her.

  96. Correction: “hardly expect them to”.

  97. NPOV says:

    Mark – sure, but I don’t see the Daily Kos as “far left”. Patrick obviously doesn’t read much if he does.

  98. No nor do I, NPOV. I was a bit confused by that characterisation.

  99. JC says:

    Now that we’ve exchanged pleasantries can we please get back to the stoushing.

  100. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Oh, and also diligent excising of adjectives in articles posted.

    Like ‘diligent’, you mean?

  101. gilmae says:

    Can an adjective modify a verb?

    Ooh, I just got a Usenet nostalgia attack.

  102. hc says:


    ‘Perhaps harry thinks a blog can only be influential if its able to convince lefties of the error of their ways and come over to the dark side?’

    Absolutely not, Troppo and John Quiggin’s blog would be counterexamples to such a claim.

    Its not only a matter of ‘preaching to the converted’ but taking off the blinkers, holding your hand outstretched, taking a good look and counting four fingers and a thumb.

    What does it mean when you say that a blog like LP ‘discusses politics, sociology, culture, life, religion and science from a left of centre perspective’? Doesn’t this inevitably imply blinkers?

    Things are not that complicated to analyse in terms of organising information. In politics, policies are espoused and you may or may not agree with their objectives (then you can discourse over the objectives to pursue) and then hold what is to me the more interesting discussion about whether the policies advanced will hit the spot or not.

    That’s a hell of a lot better than saying ‘I am a leftie’ and establishing that as a premise that you, vaguely, don’t like markets, love public servants, dislike things American, split the world into honourable lefties/dishonourable people on the right etc etc etc. Its this type of nonsense that induces the cheerleader, echo-chamber atmosphere on LP.

    It doesn’t cost you a lot in political discourse to work in terms of putting a position to start from scratch and make your point. Surely rationality and reason should be organising principle rather than blinkers. Naive ideas are often right.

    Politicians like the late John Button and Bert Kelly were pretty good at doing this. Those at the centre of modern politics these days typically are not.

    It also means that if you get it wrong that you admit you are wrong. After all the point is to get the argument right not to defend some hack politician and not to retreat into evasive verbiage or party-political stock responses.

  103. NPOV says:

    Harry, everyone has blinkers. As for discussing things from a “left of centre perspective”, I assume it just means that those who do the actual blogging on L.P. are all left-of-centre voters.
    It no more implies blinkers than Troppo’s “‘radical centrist’ perspective” or JQ’s “Commentary…from a social-democratic perspective”. If anything, your blog seems to be the odd man out in not declaring its political prejudices up front.

  104. Gummo Trotsky says:

    Can an adjective modify a verb?

    Only if the verb is a gerund (in English, the present participle of the present continuous tense – e.g. “JG is diligently excising his adjectives, give or take one or two minor lapses” – is … excising is the present continuous of the verb “to excise”).

  105. Jacques Chester says:

    Ooh, I just got a Usenet nostalgia attack.

    Careful! Your valves are showing!

  106. Jacques Chester says:

    If anything, your blog seems to be the odd man out in not declaring its political prejudices up front.

    Is there such a duty? :)

  107. John Greenfield says:


    Fair enough. But weren’t you surprised at this ignorance? I don’t know about QLD, but in NSW, Keating is featured very prominently in the high school curriculum. I was chatting to a first year bloke a few years ago who told me he wrote essays on Keating in each of English, History, and Economics HSC exams the year before!

    Oh and by the way, I am suficiently comfortable with my reading skills without needing any typically bitchy advice from you. ;) OTOH, as I said, you would do well to sharpen your own communication methods.

    And it augurs well for LP’s future that an extremely unusual thread whingeing about Kevin Bloody Donnelly has been posted. How so extremely unusual? The author is Kim, not you. Perhaps you will follow up with a reassertion there is no high and low culture? ;)

  108. hc says:

    The question is why signal your prejudices? Why say you post from a ‘left of centre perspective’? It seems to me to indicate pursuit of precisely the type of tribalism Mark Banish says he is fearful off.

    ‘Join my group – I am just like you’. Or, ‘keep away – you are not welcome here’.

    Jacques, Not only is there no duty to do this it is foolish to do so.

    It is interesting I had not read much inrto the banner at the top of Troppo. A different atmosphere here.

  109. John, I don’t know whether or not students write essays on Keating in high school in Queensland, but I doubt it. The students in this particular class are 3rd years but would surely have remembered whether they’d learnt anything about Keating during their schooling.

    As to your other comment, I don’t propose to open a discussion of a thread on LP here. One of my objections to metablogging is that it fractures conversations. The most appropriate place to discuss a post on LP is at LP. For similar reasons, I don’t feel that I am obliged to defend myself against hc again, because it’s very clear that no amount of evidence that LP isn’t a Rudd-lovin’ echo chamber is likely to convince him, so it would be a futile use of my and everyone else’s time.

  110. Jason Soon says:

    Whether or not LP is an echo chamber has nothing to do with its banner. In any case the only reason it’s there is because no one other than Mark, Kim and CL know what the heck ‘Larvatus Prodeo’ means :-)

  111. rog says:

    Maybe Auden was channelling Franklin

    We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately

  112. hc says:


    I originally thought ‘LP’ referred to one of those four wheel drives they had in ancient Rome? But that interpretation always seemed too reactionary for leftists who drive around on bicycles and in Prius’s.

    Perhaps ‘LP’ has religious significance – a blood drinking rite to cast out sin or perhaps something scatological? Maybe the original lavatorial sin…


    I don’t see the advantage in being hung with others. You are still dead. It sounds a rather selfish attitude.

Comments are closed.